I’m always on the lookout for ninja books – the kinds of books that address tough issues directly, but are also swift and subtle in how they go about doing it. These are books that have middle school-appropriate characters, plot points, and pacing with some high school-ish themes. See also: author Kerry O’Malley Cerra’s #mggetsreal campaign.
Without further ado… here are three terrific ninja books about children of alcoholic parents:
Shug by Jenny Han
Shug (nickname for Sugar) is stuck between being a child and being a teen, and she’s in the unfortunate situation of having a huge-o crush on her male best friend, Mark. While Shug is primarily an optimistic if awkward tween relationship novel, astute readers will pick up on Shug’s mother’s social withdrawal and her tendency to rely on wine to solve problems. This novel reminds us that chemical dependency can affect anybody without regard to class or gender.
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
This book is about a boy named Arthur Owens who throws a brick at an old man’s head, nearly killing an old man. Whenever I booktalk this book, there’s always a reader who says, “Surely it was an accident that Arthur threw the brick.”
To which I smile and say, “No, Arthur really meant to throw that brick.”
The Seventh Most Important Thing just might be my favorite book ever, if I really had to choose a favorite book. It’s a book that transformed me; it’s also transformed some of the readers I’ve worked with, readers who have never felt compelled by any particular text until THIS ONE. (Note that this book isn’t some magic cure-all, as some of my readers find it a little too character-driven and not cliffhangery enough. But still. This book.)
I won’t give too much else away here, but I will say that Arthur’s father did his best to be a good dad to his children despite a struggle with alcohol.
This Side of Home by Renée Watson
Watson has written a book I can only describe as a gentrification romance. Twins Maya (named after Maya Angelou) and Nikki (named after Nikki Giovanni) are watching their Northeast Portland neighborhood change before their eyes. It’s becoming more white, the stores are changing, and their neighbor and best friend Essence’s landlord has started remodeling the bathroom and kitchen … before raising the rent on their apartment. Maya wants to go to Spelman with Essence, while Essence isn’t sure she’ll be able to leave Portland and her alcoholic mother, who constantly needs her help.
Each of these three books gives a different lens into how different characters may cope with an alcoholic parent, and each of these titles could appeal to younger and older teens.
Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY. She also reviews comic books for http://www.noflyingnotights.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HMX_MSE.